North Korea could consider change of tack, Kim warns

During his annual televised New Year's speech, the North Korean leader said he hopes a follow-up summit meeting will "produce an outcome welcomed by the global community". It is designed for domestic consumption, somewhat like the State of the Union address in the United States, but is closely watched by foreign observers for clues to the dictatorship's attitude and intentions for the coming year.

"Now that North and South Korea decided on the path of peace and prosperity, we insist that joint military exercises with outside forces should no longer be allowed and deployment of war weapons such as outside strategic assets should be completely stopped", Kim said.

While the North has stopped missile and nuclear testing, there's been little indication that Pyongyang is working towards complete and verifiable denuclearisation as the United States has called upon it to do. The North used a blunt statement last month to reiterate its traditional stance on denuclearization, saying it will never unilaterally give up its weapons unless Washington removes what Pyongyang describes as a nuclear threat. USA officials have repeatedly called for the stringent enforcement of sanctions on the country until its "final, fully verified denuclearization".

While North Korea's denuclearization has stalled since Kim's summit with US President Donald Trump in June, partially due to the US's reluctance to provide sanctions relief to the North, inter-Korean reconciliation is proceeding at a steady pace.

Apparently frustrated with the protracted impasse in denuclearization talks and unclear when the crushing sanctions will be eased or lifted, Pyongyang has recently stepped up calls for self-reliance and more efforts for economic development.

"If the USA fails to carry out its promise to the world ... and remains unchanged in its sanctions and pressure upon the DPRK", Kim said, using the acronym for the North's formal name, "we might be compelled to explore a new path for defending the sovereignty of our country and supreme interests of our state".

Kim also signaled a willingness to continue improving relations with South Korea. China has been the key benefactor for North Korea's economy.

Kim called for stronger inter-Korean cooperation and said Pyongyang was ready to resume operations at a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and restart South Korean tours to the North's Diamond Mountain resort.

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Neither of those are now possible for South Korea unless sanctions on the North are removed.

Kim's speech "expressed his frustration with the lack of progress in negotiations so far", said former South Korean vice unification minister Kim Hyung-seok. "Discussions on reducing or eliminating that arsenal come later", Mount said in an email.

This year, Kim said inter-Korean relations have entered a "completely new phase", and offered to resume key inter-Korean economic projects banned under global and South Korean sanctions, without conditions.

North Korea's media have slammed the US for clinging to sanctions without honoring its promises to Pyongyang.

Kim made the remarks during his New Year's speech broadcast by the country's state television, also urging the U.S.to take corresponding measures in exchange for denuclearization steps the communist nation has taken so far. "Chairman Kim's firm commitment is expected to have a positive effect on resolving the Korean Peninsula issue smoothly in the new year", a presidential spokesman said on Tuesday morning.

Since then, the North has halted nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Since the first-ever summit between the US and North Korea, little progress has been made as Pyongyang wants corresponding measures for the steps it has taken and Washington asks for more concrete steps before granting any quid pro quo.

  • Sonia Alvarado